Excerpt from The Joshua Priest

For each child born to a family, the experience of that family is different, simply because the very structure of the family, itself, is changed by the arrival of each new child. Parents are changed too, being older and, perhaps, more burdened as subsequent children arrive. The external world into which each child is born is also changing constantly, and the demands of that world make a difference in the lives of both the parents and the children. Then, the circumstances of each child’s birth are distinctive, and parents, quite automatically, respond differently to those distinctions.

The firstborn child, particularly, is set apart by his place in the family, traditionally holding a special, unchallenged position of respect and honor. Along with that special position, the firstborn child is often expected to set an example for the siblings that follow and to carry on the family’s heritage.

Once the rest of the children begin arriving, most of the parents’ attention is, by necessity, diverted to meet the needs of their growing brood. This shift in attention always represents a loss to the firstborn child; and even when carefully explained, this loss of the parents’ once absolute and undivided attention always proves baffling and painful for that child. Very often, the firstborn experiences this loss as a betrayal by his parents and begins to retreat into the less-confusing world of his own imagination. While in that world, the child may conclude that his loss is the result of something he has done wrong or, worse, the result of something that is intrinsically wrong with him. The younger the firstborn child at the time that the others begin arriving, the more confusing and irrevocable this sense of loss and betrayal will be. Very often that sense of loss and betrayal results in a loss of trust in all figures of authority, both parents and God.

After enjoying such extraordinary amounts of undivided attention and affection from his adoring parents, the sensitive young Joseph, not yet two years old, certainly would have felt a shift in his parents’ focus when his siblings began arriving. Although still too young to express his feelings, the young Joseph had a foundation of faith and love so strong that any hurt he may have felt was converted into deeper empathy. Any imagined conclusions he may have come to that he had done something wrong were converted into a desire to please and to try to be more acceptable, more perfect. By nature, trusting and obedient, Joseph continued to grow into a child with a compassionate and caring temperament.

More important, unlike most children whose trust in God can often be confused with trust in their parents, Joseph did not suffer any such confusion; for Joseph had established a very separate and personal relationship with God before he was born. In her prayers and in her quiet times, Margaret had created a bond between her unborn infant and a loving God. Margaret and Peter continued building that bond after their son was born. They spoke of Jesus, as one speaks of an especially caring and cherished member of the family. They prayed together to a loving Jesus, and they prayed with unquestioning trust that their prayers were being received. The relationship they fostered between their son and Jesus was a living, vital friendship, a friendship he could always rely on.

Margaret and Peter also shared with Joseph their deep devotion to Mary. Through their acts of reverence, they taught him of Mary’s obedience and faithfulness and, especially, of her unconditional fiat, her willingness to trust God and her conscious consent to receive God’s will for her. And they taught him that he could always rely on the Holy Mother’s protection.

From the day of Joseph’s baptism, Margaret and Peter were equally painstaking in introducing their son to the Church, its laws, its rituals, and its sacred function in the life of every Christian. And they set an example for him by their own conscientious involvement with their local parish.

As year by year the Girzone family grew, Joseph listened and watched as his parents repeated their messages of faith for each of his siblings; and every time Joseph heard those messages repeated, it reinforced his own faith and strengthened his deepening attraction to Jesus and His Church.

Throughout his childhood, and especially in the lonely times – and there were so many lonely times in his home, filled with all his exuberant siblings, each heading full tilt in a different direction – young Joseph always enjoyed the gentle companionship with Jesus that his parents had established for him. He was able to find comfort in his innate and growing faith in God’s love; and it was to Jesus and His Mother that Joseph always turned with his deepest hurts and fears, his most cherished hopes and dreams.

On an intuitive level, not yet fully defined in his young mind, Joseph was coming to understand the distinction between the limited reach of human love and the infinite reaches of God’s love.